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‘Living with China’ discusses why Canada needs a forward-looking China strategy

September 25, 2019

A Rotman professor puts China’s steady economic growth and policies into context for the business generalist.

Photo of Wendy DobsonIf you’ve been following the major headlines recently — whether it’s the status of the charges against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, China’s ongoing trade war with the U.S. or the political unrest in Hong Kong — you probably have a lot of questions about China and the future of Canada-China relations.

Professor Wendy Dobson’s new book, Living with China: A Middle Power Finds Its Way (Rotman-UTP Publishing, Sept. 21, 2019), comes out at a perfect time. In it, she puts China’s steady economic growth and policies into context for the Canadian business generalist.

Right now, there’s a lot for Canadians to consider.

“Canadians have become complacent,” says Dobson. “It’s only in the recent past that we have begun to look at trading partners beyond the U.S. We have to better understand our relationship with China, which is now our second-largest trading partner and will soon be the world’s largest economy.”

“Not to mention that the recent diplomatic deep freeze with China caught us unprepared and it only signals the need for a long-term strategy.”

Dobson, a professor emerita in the Economic Analysis and Policy area at the Rotman School, is one of the most qualified voices to speak on the future of Canada-China relations. A former Associate Deputy Minister of Finance in the Canadian government, she has studied the rapid rise of the Indian and Chinese economies and their potential impact on Canada for more than three decades.

“Living with China requires focus, patience and determination.”

—Wendy Dobson
Professor Emerita of Economic Analysis and Policy
Living with China

More importantly, she writes with such clarity and detail that even readers without expertise in international relations and economics can follow her analysis and appreciate the context of recent events.

Dobson opens the book by introducing a basic issue: for too long, Canadians (and other Western nations) have assumed that China would become more ‘like us’, adopting liberal values and institutions and encouraging openness, democratization and the rule of law.

That didn’t happen.

“Canada has to live with China on its terms. This means understanding their leadership’s priorities and objectives,” says Dobson.

Living with China is devoted to understanding the country better. Dobson walks the reader through China’s recent progress in getting its economic house in order and developing a modern financial system, in addition to its emergence as a global innovator and technological heavyweight.

At various points, Dobson pauses to examine ongoing tensions between state and market. For instance, she examines the leadership’s top priority to maintain political stability and party legitimacy, despite its autocratic ways, by inserting party control more deeply in China’s economic life. This state-led strategy has market-related costs in terms of less risk taking, less entrepreneurial freedom, less investment and slower economic and jobs growth. As well, President Xi Jinping’s ambitious pursuit of global leadership in advanced manufacturing, AI and new technologies has seriously strained relations between China and the West, particularly the U.S.

Dobson should also be lauded for her pragmatism: in the book, she offers Canadians real starting points on how to plan for a future that incorporates China.

She suggests a comprehensive strategy that includes careful definition of Canadian interests to be pursued in the China relationship and more emphasis in Canada on public learning about China. Additionally, Dobson highlights the importance of safeguarding national security, participating more actively in Asia’s security order, and widening and deepening bilateral trade and investment ties. Managing the long-term relationship with an increasingly-assertive China will become extremely important, with Canada and other nations forming coalitions to promote coexistence between the U.S. and China.

What’s most clear is that there is much work and planning ahead.

“As other middle powers have found, living with China requires focus, patience and determination.”

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Meet the author

Wendy Dobson

Professor Emerita of Economic Analysis and Policy

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